JOLIET – For three decades, when Connie Harris shares her personal testimony of finding healing from rape and incest through a strong faith in Jesus Christ, she often receives the same reaction from those listening.
“I wish my aunt [sister, mother, etc.] could hear that story,” attendees tell her.
Well, Harris said, now they can.
Because Harris will soon retire from speaking, she recently released her book, “How to Be Overcomers and Survivors … Not Victims!” so that testimony, told in Harris’ simple, candid and concise style, will continue to reach the minds and hearts of those needing to hear it, Harris said.
“I’ve already sold 100 books and it was just released the end of February,” Harris said. “Everyone that reads it says, ‘Connie, it felt as if God was on every page. I love this story.’”
Harris’ life began in Kentucky when her mother, at 15, “got into trouble with a boy in the church.” The boy, Harris said, promised marriage and then “left town and married someone else.” So Harris’ mother’s poor sharecropper parents helped her through the pregnancy.
“She could not have the baby naturally,” Harris said, “so grandpa sold the family cow to pay for the surgery.”
When Harris’ mother was 16, she found work as a nanny and took Harris with her on the job. Her mother met a soldier, had Harris’ younger brother and sister – and then the soldier left, too. At age 19, Harris’ mother returned home with three children.
That house was the happiest place Harris lived as a child.
“Grandma’s was a home of love,” Harris said. “She was always singing songs to Jesus and taking us to church on Sunday.”
Harris’ mother found work at a bus station and met “Satan’s brother,” known as “Freddy” in Harris’ book. Harris’ grandparents don’t like him, but Harris’ mother married him anyway – partly because he promised to be a father to her “beautiful children, as he cannot have children – and moved to Chicago. Within three months, Harris’ mother was pregnant again.
“She found out he was a liar, drunk and a cheat,” Harris said. “But she did not want to take another baby back to my grandparents’ house.”
Four lonely years passed, she said. Harris and her two younger siblings were still living in Kentucky. Harris grows up with an aunt just seven months older than her. Finally, when Harris was 9, her mother returned for the rest of the children. Harris was excited, she said. Finally, she would have a mommy and a daddy.
“We were suddenly taken into a home where there’s cursing and drunkenness,” Harris said. “There were no more songs to Jesus or church for the family on Sunday.”
When Harris was 11, her new “daddy” offered money if she would shave him. Harris thought, “When me and my friend go to the movies, we can buy candy,” until Freddy began groping her and ignoring her pleas to stop. A year later, he raped her for the first time.
“He said, ‘If you tell your mother, she’ll kill me and you all will go to the orphanage,’” Harris said. “So I kept my mouth shut and it got worse.”
Harris and her siblings watched the raping and beatings of her mother and Freddy beat and molested all of the children, including his biological daughter, she said. Harris’ teen years were filled with promiscuity and one pregnancy scare. In time, Harris had two children “out of wedlock.”
But the story has a happy ending. Harris married Ron Harris, “a very nice guy,” to whom she is still married; the couple has two children. Eventually, Harris’ mother left Freddy, who is now deceased, Harris said, and then added, “the world’s a better place; children are safe.”
“He’s not missed,” Harris said.
Harris found healing through Jesus Christ after her aunt’s cancer diagnosis. Harris assured God that if he would heal the aunt, Harris would become a Christian. The cancer disappeared, Harris said, and both women converted, as did the aunt’s husband.
That was 1976. In 1979, Harris joined a Christian women’s organization and, through God’s leading, she said, became one of its official speakers. Through the years, Harris shared her story at events in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Wisconsin, she said.
Harris tells rape victims, “It’s not your fault.”
“When I let Jesus Christ into my heart, all of the hatred and guilt and shame was just released,” Harris said. “A peace swept over me.”